Patience and persistence help 'different' children

By JUDY LYDEN
Scripps Howard News Service
17-JUL-03

One of the highlights of 21st-century teaching is working with children who are differently oriented. Some teachers are sympathetic to these kids and some are not.

As a school administrator, I hear a lot of stories from incoming parents about classrooms that failed to offer children alternative learning styles and people who failed to treat these kids well.

The truth is that lots of children have "problems." It's a given that one in 30 will need help to learn. It's often more than remediation. Sometimes a child's problem is bizarre.

Frankie doesn't make sense. It's clear that he is someplace else and radioing in at strategic times. The question is, is the child sick or is he just exploring on a different plane? And how do we tell, and how do we make contact and then teach the child? To some it may sound egregiously silly, but it is my experience that something as simple as love followed by affection will probably reach the child before anything else.

Love the child. Listen to him. Spend time with him, praise him, make him want to learn, and more times than not, he will find a way. The human mind is an extraordinary thing.

I think the most formative year of all is age 2. It's the age of awakening when people establish their personalities for keeps. It's the age lots of people never climb out of. Look at other adults you know, and compare their behavior to that of a 2-year-old. The key word to a 2-year-old is "me" first, last and always.

Understanding some older children means asking:

_ What was he like at 2?

_ Could his aberrant behavior at 5 or 6 or 7 have anything to do with misdirection and malformation as a 2-year-old?

_ What did he fail to do? What did he miss? What did Mom or Dad fail to give him or demand from him that caused the year 2 to extend?

Charlie is 6 and is for all intents and purposes a 2-year-old. His main life-delight is being bombarded with stimuli. He likes anything that moves.

He never sits still, never analyzes anything. He just feels, tastes, smells, sees and hears the world coming at him.

Because Charlie doesn't think before he acts, he is often a danger to himself just because he's not really putting two and two together. His brain is caught in an immature function that uses the senses but doesn't use the knowledge gained, and his behavior shows it.

Charlie needs a lot of simple repetition and consistency. Balancing a 2-year-old function with a 6-year-old body is sometimes tough on a teacher and frustrating for the child: "OK, Charlie, what did you do?" "What should you do?" "What is (pick a child) doing?" "Is that a good thing?" "Try it again and copy (pick a child)."

Behavior is only one part of development. Learning is the other. Catching the immature child's attention and getting something intellectually stimulating into him might slowly help him make the transition to 3, 4 and 5. But it takes a lot of time, effort and love, and it means steering away from name-calling, such as "hyperactive."

It doesn't take a genius to work with children who have what really amounts to ordinary problems. It takes time, effort and energy and a desire to teach children who have gotten off Main Street and are wallowing down in the pond.

Sometimes problem-solving just takes modeling behavior on both sides of the desk.

(Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Contact her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702, or at jlyden(at)evansville.net.)